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John W. Wyckoff: Pneuma and Logos

Even if convinced that the Spirit has the hermeneutical role described above, the question of how still remains. Our author devotes most of the remaining two chapters in responding to the challenge of explaining how the Sprit provides illumination. While admitting he is seeking to explain a “mystery,” he nonetheless asserts that imperfect articulation is better than none at all. And so Wyckoff looks to the metaphors of Scripture itself as a window into the mystery of pneumatic activity in the hermeneutical task. He lists such verbal metaphors as “enlightening”(Eph 1:19), “guiding” (Jn 16:13) and “unveiling” (2Cor 3:12) as instructive and discusses models that help conceptualize how the Spirit conveys or transmits understanding. After critiquing and rejecting two inferior models, the author adopts the teacher metaphor as the most helpful and instructive. His choice is prompted by the prevalence of this metaphor in Scripture and the epistemological contexts that surround it. It also underscores the cooperative participation between interpreter and the Holy Spirit in the hermeneutical process. The testimony of numerous scholars establishes a broad consensus that it is a collaborative effort that does not marginalize the input and involvement of the Holy Spirit or the interpreter. Moreover, the task is synergistic in the fact that Spirit and his illumination works “through the normal processes of human understanding.” These are the critical procedures of biblical exegesis and hermeneutical principles. Among these principles the one that I believe is ripe for elaboration and further reflection is “responsiveness.” This principle points to the Spirit’s impact on the reader volitionally. What is not completely clear is whether the reader’s response is an internal or external one, and whether it is a prerequisite for illumination or its attendant result.

Who are candidates for the Spirit’s illumination of Scripture? Believers of course are the primary recipients, Wyckoff acknowledges, but what about non-believers? His answer is one that requires careful theological analysis or readers might be led to false conclusions; perhaps by what is not stated more than what is. The author states plainly that some measure of the Spirit’s enlightenment must be available to unbelievers or the gospel message would then have remained veiled and hidden from their understanding. How then could they be converted? Confusion may result when we fail to distinguish contexts. Unbelievers confronted with the gospel on the way to conversion, are not in the same situation as believers, regenerated by the Spirit, seeking to understand God’s Word.

Wyckoff’s most novel and original work is clearly found in Chapter four where he presents a model and method for conceptualizing the work of the Spirit in the process of interpretation. Here is where he combines models of teaching gleaned from educational theory with the teacher metaphor for the work of the Spirit found in Scripture. Educators acknowledge three basic teaching/learning paradigms: authoritative, laissez-faire and facilitator. Our author carefully describes the role of the teacher, the mode and manner of teaching, and the anticipated outcomes or results under each paradigm. He then explores how one would view the work of the Spirit as teacher under each paradigm as it relates to the scripture-reader and the spiritual results of that educational transaction. The teaching/learning paradigm of facilitator is shown to be most reflective of the Spirit’s work in the collaborative hermeneutical enterprise previously discussed. Educators and theologians alike will resonate with his conclusion that this paradigm facilitates learning that results in a higher order of knowledge, one that is both experiential and transformational.

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Category: In Depth, Pneuma Review, Spring 2012

About the Author: James D. Hernando, Ph.D. (Drew University), is Professor of New Testament at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He is author of Dictionary of Hermeneutics (Gospel Publishing House, 2005), the commentary on 2 Corinthians in the Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament (Zondervan, 1999), as well as numerous articles and papers.

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